I was privileged to be born in Hong Kong (HK) in the mid-60s and grew up there. I had witnessed a few decades of prosperity as a young man. My family enjoyed that time too, just like many other families in Hong Kong.
We enjoyed free schooling there until 15 years of age. Medical treatment at major hospitals was close to free. I remember how horrified I was when I heard that people had to pay for their medical treatment after I left HK in 1990. We enjoyed a corruption free environment since the early 1970s. I loved the idea of meritocracy too, as for people like me from an average family background, meritocracy offered a better chance for us in life.
Living in a society that is virtually corruption free is an element that many have taken for granted. Interestingly, I read a book written by a prominent politician in a bigger country who wrote that corruption was part and parcel of life. As there is no way to terminate it, the people should get used to it. How interesting!!!
I went to a school which was run by a group of very liberal-minded Salesian fathers. We prided ourselves on having absolutely no written school rules and we were allowed to make decisions and mistakes in extra-curricular activities even though we always knew deep down that there would be consequences for any trouble.
At the age of 17 or 18 years, some of us were trusted in handling projects (such as Leadership Training Camp or other social programs) with budget amounts of about USD$30,000-40,000 (actual figure, not inflation adjusted!) in the 1970s/80s, without any direct adult supervision. HKers are also proud of their freedom of speech and the fact that the society is fast moving. HK people actually move on the street equivalent to the speed of brisk walk or slow jog.
1988 was an important year to me:
- My little cousin succumbed to leukemia;
- I came first in the Intercollegiate 800m track event;
- I sent off my US post-graduate applications ahead of time;
- It was my first visit to Singapore; and
- I met my soulmate, Moon, who is now my wife at home and the boss in my life.
1988 was also the time when I had my first opportunity to visit Singapore through a University of Hong Kong (HKU) and National University of Singapore (NUS) Dental school exchange program. That was the time I had just finished my third year training and we had just completed our degree examination in medicine and surgery.
While seeing patients at the HKU teaching hospital, Queen Mary Hospital, I witnessed over-crowding in wards where patients were placed on portable canvas beds in the corridors. Over at NUS we saw a different scene – neat, tidy, clean, well-run wards with patient records being delivered in a ceiling hung automated railing system. Although people in general were moving around at a slower speed (relative to HK folk) but based on what I had experienced in that exchange program, I remember I wrote in my travel journal, “If HK is running, Singapore is sprinting!”
Fast forward a few decades… after spending close to a decade and a half in North America, my family has been in Singapore since 2004. HK has been handed over to its motherland and its GDP is still among the top in Asia while Singapore’s GDP has risen dramatically since 1988. The question would be why?
I think the answer is Mr. Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) and his culture, The ‘LKY culture’.